Best Small Town: Sandpoint, Idaho

For Sunset's fourth biennial salute to the West's best communities, we turned to the ultimate experts: our readers.

Ask Sue Haynes what you call a Sandpoint resident, and she answers, "Lucky!" A town-council member, Haynes's roots go back three generations in this Idaho Panhandle town set on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.

"This was a wonderful place to grow up," she says. "As teenagers, our big rebellion was to sneak out of the house at night and watch the sun come up over the lake."

The town's character hasn't really changed. Lumber was Sandpoint's mainstay until the 1980s, and as that industry waned, the town turned to other types of manufacturing, plus tourism and the arts. Today art galleries and studios dot downtown. Another landmark is the 1906 Cedar Street Bridge, now a two-level shopping promenade. And the Panida Theater, a 1927 Mission revival-style gem rescued and restored by the community, is thronged most weekend evenings.

The Panida is still a beloved spot for Haynes. "Saving that theater was a big job for a small community, but we really pulled together," she says. As if Sandpoint residents aren't already fortunate, they also make their own luck. ― Lora J. Finnegan



POPULATION: About 7,500

ELEVATION: 2,100 feet

AVERAGE COST OF 3-BEDROOM, 2-BATH HOME: $125,000-$132,000


LOCAL PLEASURE: Panida Theater

INFORMATION: Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, or (208) 263-0887


Port Townsend, Washington. This historic seaport of 8,500 holds numerous galleries and much splendidly restored Victorian architecture. (360) 385-2722.

Sutter Creek, California. A hamlet of 2,375, Sutter Creek is one of the best-preserved towns in California's Gold Country. (209) 267-1344.

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